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Tennis

A Look Back At The 2015 Tennis Season

6/23/2015

2015 Final Tennis Release

Highlighting the 2015 tennis season was the Long Beach State women winning their 11th tournament title in 12 years and the UC Santa Barbara men capturing their sixth in the same span.  In addition, the UC Irvine men established a single-season record for most wins and their UC Davis counterparts claimed a share of the program's first regular season title.

BIG WEST AT A GLANCE

Big West Tournament In Review
Two programs with longstanding traditions of dominance at Indian Wells Tennis Garden took home Big West Tournament titles at one of the premier facilities in the country.

altIn the 12 years the conference tournament has been contested at IWTG, the Long Beach State women have collected an astounding 11 titles.  The 49ers dispatched No. 8 Cal Poly, No. 5 CSUN and No. 3 UC Santa Barbara to claim the Big West’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament for the fifth straight year and 12th time in the last 14 seasons under head coach Jenny Hilt-Costello’s tutelage.

The 49ers improved to a mind boggling 35-1 all-time at IWTG since the Big West moved its tournament home there in 2004.  After facing UC Irvine in the finals for seven consecutive seasons, LBSU encountered a new opponent in UC Santa Barbara, which had not appeared in the championship match since 1999.

UCSB gave the 49ers a battle, but ultimately succumbed by a 4-1 score.  After LBSU earned the doubles point, Maeva Razakasoa, Hayley Thompson and Laura Eales clinched the decisive points at the No. 1, No. 4 and No. 6 singles positions, respectively.  Stacy Yam got one point back for the Gauchos at No. 5.

The UC Santa Barbara men have not reached the same level of dominance as their women’s counterparts at LBSU, but have made a similar push.  The Gauchos won their sixth tournament title in 12 years, accomplishing the feat in familiar fashion – as a lower seed.  UCSB won for the second time as a No. 3 seed, to go along with championships as a No. 4, No. 5, and twice a No. 1.  It was the program’s ninth title overall, and eighth during the Marty Davis coaching era.

The Gauchos knocked off No. 6 seed Hawai‘i, No. 2 UC Davis and top-seeded UC Irvine to secure the crown and the Big West’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.  Engaging in one of the tightest finals in tournament history, UCSB outlasted UCI, 4-3, for the dramatic victory.  At first, the outcome looked to be a rout as UCSB rolled to a 3-0 lead.  The Anteaters blazed back with three straight points, setting up a showdown at No. 2 singles where Nathan Eshmade rebounded from a first set loss to win 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-3.

Hilt-Costello Keeps 49er Machine Churning
Jenny Hilt-Costello just finished her 18th season as the head coach of the Long Beach State women’s tennis program.  She reached a career milestone against her biggest rival, picking up win No. 300 on March 6 at UC Irvine.  Her career mark is 310-136 (.695).  In addition, Hilt-Costello led the 49ers to their eighth Big West regular season title (seven outright, one shared), and their 8-0 record marked the seventh time in the 10-year round-robin schedule era that LBSU finished league play with an unblemished record.  The 49ers are an incredible 76-3 (.962) since the Big West instituted a round-robin schedule in 2006.  Hilt-Costello’s teams have won 20 consecutive matches against conference opponents in regular season play dating back to Mar. 2, 2013.  Finishing the 2015 season with an overall record of 18-6, the 49ers have recorded 18 or more wins for eight consecutive years.

Big West Trio Earns Intercollegiate Tennis Association Awards
Three Big West athletes received postseason recognition from the Intercollegiate Tennis Association for the Southwest Region.

Criss Rodriguez of CSUN garnered the ITA Most Improved Player (Senior) of the Year award, UC Irvine’s Jonathan Hammel was the recipient of the ITA/Arthur Ashe, Jr. Sportsmanship and Leadership Award, and Hawai‘i sophomore Cindy Nguyen was tabbed an ITA Player To Watch.

Rodriguez, a team captain, helped the Matadors to a resurgent season as the team finished 15-6 overall and 5-3 in the Big West to tie for fourth in league play.  The Matadors also advanced to the semifinals of the conference tournament.  Rodriguez was a team-best 16-4 in singles play, including a perfect 11-0 at the No. 4 position.  She posted a 6-2 record against Big West competition en route to All-Big West Second Team honors in singles.

Hammel, a junior, became the second member of his family to collect the Arthur Ashe, Jr. Sportsmanship and Leadership Award.  His sister, Stephanie, received the honor in 2012.  Hammel is the third men’s Anteater to claim the award, joining Chris Tontz from 1995 and Zac Tsai in 2010.  The award is bestowed upon those individuals who “have exhibited outstanding sportsmanship and leadership as well as scholastic, extracurricular and tennis achievements,” in honor of the former tennis great and civil rights advocate.

Nguyen, the 2015 Big West Women’s Tennis Player of the Year, earned another prestigious honor as she is one of 12 players who are expected to be one of the top returning players in their region next year.  Each player must have been ranked nationally, or if the region does not have a candidate who has achieved a national ranking, must have been ranked regionally.  This award cannot be received by the same individual in multiple years.  Nguyen, who has appeared in two straight NCAA Singles Championships, posted a 15-3 dual match record exclusively at No. 1 singles.  Her premier victory in 2015 came against then-No. 21 Ronit Yurovsky of Michigan, 7-6, 4-6, 8-6.

Nguyen Competes In NCAA Singles Championship

For the second straight year, Hawai‘i standout Cindy Nguyen represented the Big West in the NCAA Singles Championship.  She captured an automatic bid to the 64-player field by virtue of being the lone ranked Big West player in the ITA top 125.  

Competing at the Hurd Tennis Center hosted by Baylor University, Nguyen battled Clemson No. 60-ranked player Beatrice Gumulya in the first round, losing 6-1, 6-4.  The match concluded a sensational year for Nguyen, who had a 15-3 dual match record at No. 1 singles and was unbeaten against Big West opposition.  A three-time Big West Athlete of the Week recipient, Nguyen played against No. 12 ranked Breaunna Addison of Texas in her first go-around at the NCAA Singles Championships in 2014.  She lost that matchup by a 7-5, 6-2 score.

UC Irvine Men Set Big West Record For Victories
UC Irvine set the Big West record for most victories in a single-season by a men’s team in 2015.  The Anteaters became the first conference program to reach the 20-win plateau as they notched a 20-13 record.  UCI surpassed the previous record of 19 wins established by the 2011 team.

The Anteaters also earned their second shared regular season title in the last three years after tying UC Davis for the top mark at 4-1.  UCI finished the year with a final national ranking of No. 67, and reached as high as No. 60 during the campaign.  The Anteaters defeated No. 45 Boise State, No. 53 UC Davis and No. 54 Cal Poly among ranked victims in 2015.

UC Davis Men Capture First League Title
Eric Steidlmayer has the UC Davis men’s tennis program on the rise.  After leading the Aggies to their first winning season in 2014 when they finished 14-11 overall, Steidlmayer’s troops took the next step in their ascension this season.  UC Davis  won a school Division I record 16 matches in 2015, going 16-6 overall, and tying for fourth on the Big West single-season wins list.

In addition, UC Davis captured a share of its first Big West regular season title, finishing 4-1 alongside UC Irvine.  The Aggies had not won more than two Big West matches in their seven previous years of conference membership.  UC Davis became the fourth different school in the last four years to share, or win outright, the league’s regular season title, joining Cal Poly (2012), Cal Poly and UC Irvine (2013), and Hawai‘i (2014).

More evidence of Steidlmayer’s impact on the program came from the national polls.  The Aggies made their Division I debut in the ITA poll on Jan. 29, 2008, spending one week tied with four other schools at No. 75.  It wouldn’t be until seven years later that the Aggies returned to the polls, debuting this season at No. 72 on Feb. 3, 2015.  UC Davis climbed as high as No. 53 nationally, and concluded the season at No. 58.

UC Santa Barbara, UC Davis Finish Undefeated At Home
Two men’s teams posted undefeated records at home in 2015 – UC Santa Barbara (9-0) and UC Davis (8-0).  It is the first time since 2006 when UC Riverside went 6-0 that a Big West school finished with an unblemished home record.

UC Riverside Snaps Big West Skid
In UC Riverside’s 4-2 victory over Hawai‘i on April 19, the school recorded its first Big West victory since 2011, halting a losing streak of 20 straight regular season matches to conference opponents.

Anteater Streak Of Finals Appearances Ended
The UC Irvine women had appeared in seven consecutive championship matches in the Big West Tournament before bowing out in this year’s semifinal round.  The Anteaters lost a tough 4-3 battle to UC Santa Barbara in the semis, but still had an excellent season, finishing 15-9 overall and tying for second in the Big West at 6-2.

Head coach Mike Edles, who just completed his 19th season at the helm of UCI, improved his career record to 282-182 (.608).  He stands just 18 wins shy of milestone No. 300 entering the 2016 season.  His teams have recorded 15 winning seasons, and have won at least 15 matches in a season on 11 different occasions.

Gauchos Take Steps Forward
Third-year head coach Simon Thibodeau continues to lead his UC Santa Barbara women’s tennis program to greater successes.

Thibodeau led the Gauchos to a 16-9 record, a final ITA national ranking of No. 60 and the championship match of the Big West Tournament.  It represented the first finals appearance for UCSB in 16 years.  UCSB last reached the finals in 1999, and notched its last title in 1996.

UCSB had some solid victories this season, toppling ranked opponents such as No. 44 Saint Mary’s, No. 66 Illinois, No. 57 San Francisco and No. 66 UC Irvine.  Thibodeau has compiled a record of 39-34 (.534) at UCSB, with the 16 victories this season the most for a UCSB team since 2009.